Why businesses need an internal career marketplace for skills, ASAP

Think of it as the ultimate database to discover not only who in your organization has what skills, but also who is developing what skills — and how far along they’ve come in their development.

When I was chief learning officer for LinkedIn, I had an important project that required someone with expertise in marketing and PR. I was all set to look outside my department, and perhaps outside the company, since our PR team had plenty to do already. But I had someone on my team with the necessary skills — I just didn’t know it.

I had recently hired a woman to be head of onboarding for our learning division. In our interactions, we had discussed her experience in onboarding, development and related work. PR and marketing never had reason to come up. But then, when we were having a casual conversation about our backgrounds, I learned that she had a degree in PR and marketing. She knew how to do exactly what I needed.

This was someone I had interviewed, who I worked with on a regular basis, and I still hadn’t known this about her. Imagine how little I knew — how little any of us know — about the hidden skills of people in other units throughout the organization. Not only are we unaware of the full range of their expertise, but we also may be unaware that they’re specifically looking for opportunities to put those skills to use within the company.

This lack of knowledge has long been a problem for all kinds of businesses. It sends managers looking externally for expertise they don’t realize they already have internally — along with the high costs of recruiting and hiring. But it’s become an even more damaging problem this year, as the COVID-19 pandemic has upended operations across numerous industries, triggered mass layoffs and left companies reeling.

This is why all organizations need an internal career marketplace for skills — immediately.

Making skills and opportunities discoverable

Think of it as the ultimate database to discover not only who in your organization has what skills, but also who is developing what skills — and how far along they’ve come in their development.

As my co-author David Blake and I wrote in our book “The Expertise Economy,” eBay was an early adopter of just such a marketplace. This kind of system allows employees to input information about their skills and their ongoing development efforts and helps people across the organization’s worldwide operations to find the kind of talent they need.

It also provides employees with a way to locate opportunities for jobs, as well as projects that serve as stretch assignments. As learning executives know, workers need chances to apply their newly developed skills to real-world situations in order to cement their learning.

Furthermore, the marketplace can show employees which skills are most in demand at the company since managers can post about what they’re looking for. This inspires workers to develop key skills, closing gaps in the organization.

Helping avoid mass layoffs

In recent months, the role of such a marketplace has taken on increased meaning — and increased urgency.

Businesses have vastly different needs during the pandemic. For example, many companies have found that they can’t send out as many people to do in-person sales calls, but their call centers and online customer service centers have been overwhelmed. These different roles require some different skill sets. I’ve worked with businesses this year that have used an internal career marketplace to find who has the right skills and move people over, rather than laying off huge numbers from one division and hiring new people into others.

In a survey of 113 L&D leaders, “71 percent said that more than 40 percent of their workforce has needed new skills due to changes to work brought on by COVID-19,” Gartner reports. The research and advisory company recommends that leaders “foster internal movement across the organization by engaging employees to gauge their skills, goals and points of confusion around organizational skill needs.” These crucial steps are facilitated by an internal career marketplace.

Establishing one is part of a move toward greater internal mobility that HR, talent and learning professionals have rightfully been pushing in recent years. Randstad’s “2020 Talent Trends Report” found that “The percentage of companies that are increasing investments in internal mobility programs has grown from 39 percent in 2016 to 47 percent in 2020.” But those figures also show there’s a long way to go.

Of course, only having a marketplace isn’t enough. It needs to be backed up by what Deloitte calls a strong culture of internal mobility. Yes, “It’s not unusual for recruiters to be completely unaware that the best candidate for a position may already work inside the organization,” three Deloitte executives wrote. But, just as important, organizations must avoid turf wars in which units are afraid to “poach” talent from each other.

At Degreed, where I currently work, we’ve used our product Degreed Career Mobility to create our own internal career marketplace, giving us the ability to look inside the company first. And as a leader, I’m able to better guide our employees in their growth. All this gives me, and others, greater peace of mind — something we all could use amid this tumultuous year.